Now seemingly more famous in Western cooking for being an ingredient some people want to avoid; wheat gluten is simply the protein found in wheat. As long as you don’t have an illness or allergy to it, gluten is perfectly healthy and responsible for many structural qualities of wheat doughs and batters.
Without gluten, the texture of wheat-based breads, pastas, dumplings, cookies and other foods are dramatically changed. Protein is responsible for that tender, chewy texture; that’s why egg batters — for example, that used in spätzle — are especially springy, and the final cooked product extremely satisfying to bite into. The presence of gluten protein in wheat gives wheat flour foods more stretch and chewiness than similar goods made of other flours like almond, rice, chickpea, etc.
Beyond just providing structure to wheat, gluten itself can be isolated by washing away the starches; this has been done in certain Asian cuisines for at least 1,500 years.
Gluten by itself is often called seitan and is a common vegetarian substitute for chicken and other poultry. That’s because of that extremely high protein content that gives it a similar texture to other protein-rich foods like meats.
Wheat gluten is very mild in flavor — almost flavorless — but absorbs other flavors well. Because of this, it’s delicious cooked in almost endless different ways!
Whether you’re vegetarian or otherwise, seitan is delicious. You can find it in Uwajimaya’s grocery department.